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Top Palestinian minister accuses Israel of ‘depriving children of joy’

Riyad al-Maliki blasts Israel for shuttering a Jerusalem theater ahead of an international puppet show; Israel says PA illegally funded it

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90/File)
Palestinian authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90/File)

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki on Monday blasted Israel for shuttering a Palestinian theater in Jerusalem, claiming the move was part of a larger “racist” campaign on the part of the Jewish state.

In a letter sent to his counterparts around the world, as well as to the secretary generals of the UN and the Arab League, Maliki accused Israel of “depriving Palestinian children of celebrations and joy” by canceling an international puppet festival scheduled to take place this week in Jerusalem’s al-Hakawati theater, known as the Palestinian National Theater.

“Racist Israel declares itself the enemy of culture and childhood,” read the headline of Maliki’s statement in the Palestinian official website, WAFA, disseminated throughout the Palestinian media.

On June 21, Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich issued an eight-day closing order for al-Hakawati, one day ahead of the festival that was to host theater groups from Norway, France and Turkey, as well as from Israel. According to the order posted on the theater windows, the festival — allegedly organized by the Palestinian Authority — contravened the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords banning such activities within Israel without prior authorization from Israeli authorities.

“The decision was made because illegal activity was undertaken under the auspices and funding of the Palestinian Authority without permission,” read a response by the Ministry of Internal Security sent to The Times of Israel Monday. “The minister of internal security is authorized to use a warrant to prevent any illegal gathering or meeting, and that is what was done in this case.”

But speaking to the Israeli daily Haaretz, festival director Mohammed Halaiqeh said that when questioned about the festival by the Israeli Shin Bet last Thursday, he denied the PA was in any way involved in funding.

“The PA doesn’t even have enough money to pay its own employees,” he said.

Al-Hakawati theater was established in the late 1970s in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and serves as a cultural center for the city’s 360,000 Palestinians, as well as for residents of the West Bank.

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